11 July 2007
PASC HAILS PROPOSALS ON CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE
The Public Administration Select Committee today hailed Gordon Brown's proposals to reform the constitution by passing more powers to Parliament and the people - but warned that the devil would be in the detail.
The proposals included many which were originally proposed by the Committee, including crucial reforms like giving Parliament a vote on whether to go to war. The importance of the Committee's work in framing the proposals was recognised by the new Prime Minister, who told Members in unveiling his plans that "the Committee, and the proposals that have come from it, will contribute to what final recommendations are made."
Several of the Government's reforms were put forward by PASC as far back as 2004 - when the Committee's Taming the Prerogative report which called for key ministerial prerogative powers to pass to Parliament. The Committee recommended giving Parliament the right to ratify treaties and take decisions on matters of peace and war, while it suggested a full review of all other prerogative powers - including granting honours, issuing passports and making public appointments. Jack Straw's Green Paper reveals that "the Government intends to build on the proposals of the report of the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee in 2004."
The Committee also broke new ground in 2003 by becoming the first Select Committee to draft its own Bill - in this case a Civil Service Bill. The Government will now adopt that Bill as its own - although it is not clear how closely the Government's detailed proposals will mirror the Committee's widely supported draft.
Meanwhile, other PASC recommendations now accepted by the Government included:
- A new Ministerial Code of Conduct - with an Independent Adviser to investigate alleged breaches
- Restrictions on Ministers moving straight from Government into private companies - to match the restrictions on civil servants
- Parliamentary confirmation hearings for key public appointments
The Committee expects to take a close interest in the development of detailed policy, with the possibility of further hearings and reports on parts of the Government's programme. It set out its plans today in a Special Report “The Governance of Britain”. Other Select Committees are also expected to scrutinise different sections of the Green Paper.
Committee Chairman Tony Wright called the PM's statement "historic", but he also had words of warning for the Government:
"There is much to celebrate in this possibly unprecedented surrender of power by the Government to the people and to Parliament. But there is also much work to be done. The key to achieving a lasting constitutional settlement will be in the small print, but at least we know that the new Government and this Committee are looking in the same direction.
We welcome the Prime Minister's desire to approach this process through a non-partisan dialogue. That has to be the right way forward, and I'm sure we will continue to play our part in the weeks and months to come. The Government has listened to us and responded - we look forward to working together to achieve the right outcomes for the British people."
Committee Membership is as follows: Tony Wright (Chairman) (Lab) (Cannock Chase), Mr David Burrowes (Con) (Enfield, Southgate), Paul Flynn (Lab) (Newport West), David Heyes (Lab) (Ashton under Lyne), Kelvin Hopkins (Lab) (Luton North), Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Con) (Bridgewater), Julie Morgan (Lab) (Cardiff North), Mr Gordon Prentice (Lab) (Pendle), Paul Rowen (Lib Dem) (Rochdale), Mr Charles Walker (Con) (Broxbourne), Jenny Willott (Lib Dem) (Cardiff Central)
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